5 Cursed Lands That We Humans Rendered Uninhabitable
Good news! Thanks to the rise of remote work, depending on what you do for a living, you may well be able to move anywhere.
Well, not everywhere. There are some places on this Earth that you’re banned from ever setting foot on, for your own protection. To find out why, you just need to hear what the last people who were there did.
It’s the 1970s, and a group of American scientists perform research on captive primates. They inject the animals with diseases like hepatitis and Ebola. They put the animals on an isolated island, which comes to be known as Monkey Island. The colony breeds and remains there even in 2023.
Crazily enough, the above description describes two unrelated stories. One is about Monkey Island in Liberia, where the New York Blood Center experimented on chimps (which aren’t actually monkeys) till 2005. The other is Monkey Island off the coast of South Carolina, home to thousands of rhesus monkeys, and which the U.S. government still uses as a source of research subjects today. The South Carolina island — formally named Morgan Island — is the one we want to highlight today because that’s the one you’re forbidden from visiting.
Oh, officials say you’re forbidden from visiting for the monkeys’ protection, but we have our doubts. These are monkeys who constantly see their relatives taken to be painfully pricked and prodded, and we all know that monkeys are devout anti-vaxxers. These monkeys are pissed, and if you were to show up, you’d find out just how many monkeys you can take in a fight before they overwhelm and destroy you. Fortunately, Monkey Island has recently landed under new management, by a primate procurer named Alpha Genesis. Based on their name alone, we can conclude this group is 100 percent non-sinister, and we are all in safe hands.
Oklahoma’s Lead City That No One Must Touch
When you mine minerals, you can do it the right way, or you can do it the dumb way. You can make sure to excavate well below the surface, or you can risk ground-level buildings collapsing thanks to cave-ins. You can seal each mineshaft when you’re done with it, or you can leave those open, so acid enters the local water supply. You can cart away waste to a safe disposal site, or you can pile it hundreds of feet high in the middle of town, so it constantly wafts into everyone’s lungs.
Picher, Oklahoma, did it the dumb way. Plus, much of the material extracted from the Picher mines happened to be lead, which adds a whole extra layer of damage on top of everything else. By the 1990s, a third of the kids in Picher had lead poisoning, while other people got to experience cancer and various other such inconveniences. Over the course of a decade, the EPA bought most of the buildings in town so the people there would move away (most of the buildings were already in danger of collapsing).
Then residents voted to dissolve the town, which is a legal procedure, not a decision to douse the town in acid, which had already happened. The place is now officially too contaminated for habitation. A handful of the original 30,000 residents have decided to stay, but a handful of Chernobyl’s residents decided to stay in their homes, too. One group is working to restoring the town. It’s called the Local Environmental Action Demanded agency. Or, for short, LEAD. Again, we’re all in safe hands.
France’s Century-Old Red Zone
Around 20 years ago, Old Spice unveiled a line of especially effective deodorants, which they branded under the name “Red Zone.” The company no longer appears to put the Red Zone branding front and center. Perhaps this is because they learned that Red Zone otherwise refers to unsafe or quarantined areas, including a region of France that’s been contaminated and uninhabitable ever since World War I.
This was the site of the Battle of Verdun, where about 1,000 soldiers died every day for 300 days in 1916. Though warfare obviously changes a terrain, land can recover after a war. Hiroshima faced a fairly significant strike a few decades more recently than the Battle of Verdun, and it’s a huge city today, with zero signs of the devastation, other then specially preserved memorial sites. But the Red Zone wasn’t just left with a few pockmarks in the soil. Millions and millions of shells hit the area, and an undeterminable number of them remain there, still active. It was far safer to ban everyone from living in the Red Zone than to let them stick around amid all that unexploded ordnance.
While no one lives in this 400-square-mile area today, farmers do grow stuff there. Sometimes, a tractor hits a shell, which explodes. This is the best-case scenario for people encountering those shells — a tractor is the closest thing to an armored vehicle that an ordinary person will find themselves in. Other times, people detonate shells filled with mustard gas or chlorine, and they die. Clearing all the munitions will take centuries, and it's being undertaken by an agency called the Department du Deminage. “Deminage,” we think, would in fact be a great name for a deodorant, as it sounds both exotic and powerful.
The Agent Orange Town
Chemical weapons unleash harm where they’re deployed, obviously. They also aren’t too gentle on the places they’re manufactured. In 1970, Times Beach in Missouri hired someone to coat their roads in chemical waste from a company that manufactured Agent Orange, which... Okay, that sounds completely insane, but it made sense at the time.
The waste was motor oil, which you shouldn’t drink but which isn’t the worst thing to spread on roads. They sought the oil to cheaply turn their dust roads into something you could really drive on. Problem was, the oil was tainted with dioxin, which is poisonous.
The first sign of contamination came when dozens of horses keeled over and died. The EPA checked in, and soon, emergency workers in biohazard suits, looking like astronauts, were sweeping the town and telling everyone to get out of there. The thousands of residents obeyed, and much like with Picher, they voted for disincorporation — which is a legal procedure, not the melting of flesh, which is what happens when Agent Orange lands on you.
Times Beach became uninhabitable. But that wasn’t the end of this area’s story. The cleanup effort, which cost $200 million, actually succeeded. The EPA burned some 40,000 tons of contaminated material, and this is one environmental disaster where burning 40,000 tons was the solution, not the cause. Times Beach the town is no more, but there’s now a state park in its place. You can visit it without inhaling any unusual chemicals at all, other than the ones you bring with you.
The Isle of Anthrax
Chemical weapons do grisly stuff. Now, let’s do you one better by talking about biological weapons, which were tested by one of the most evil powers to fight in World War II: Great Britain.
Oh, they never got around to deploying the bombs they were developing. But the plan was to use anthrax to kill millions of German civilians. The British dubbed this Operation Vegetarian. They would ship the bacteria by dumping infected linseed caked on cattle fields, and the infected beef would kill meat-eaters, sparing only vegetarians.
Britain conducted their anthrax research on Scotland’s Gruinard Island, blasting sheep with fatal anthrax clouds. They blamed the scores of dead animals on passing Greek ships (Greek ships are always a danger during wartime), and when the war ended with the anthrax bombs unused, they shut off access to the island. The island was dangerous, warned signage, which did not actually mention anthrax, since Operation Vegetarian remained a secret.
In 1981, some mysterious group started sending soil to military research facilities, claiming it came from Gruinard. The soil had anthrax, and so, the government found themselves having to deal with an island that was now publicly labeled as an anthrax zone. Anthrax may be a hardy organism, but it is still an organism, which means it can be defeated by unleashing death. The government dumped tons of formaldehyde on the island to kill the bacteria.
The island’s now safe to visit again. It’s just like the story of the old lady who swallowed a fly then swallowed a series of larger animals to counteract it: It ended happily.